Routine streetcar vote prompts passions

The Columbia Pike streetcar project again elicited heated rhetoric from residents and elected officials Tuesday night, prompted by a largely procedural vote on how Arlington and Fairfax counties would split the costs and handle management of the planning and design phase.

The Arlington County Board voted 4-1, with Libby Garvey (D) in opposition, to update a 2009 agreement with Fairfax County. Arlington will lead the project, and will split the $999,131 cost of this phase 80.4 to 19.6 percent with Fairfax.

But the vote, in the Arlington board’s last meeting before its two-month-long summer vacation, was enough to bring out 20 partisans who repeated the arguments they have expressed for more than a year.

The streetcar is planned to run about 4.5 miles, from near the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery to the Skyline area near Bailey’s Crossroads. Local officials had hoped to pay for one-third of the cost from federal funds; they were turned down in April because federal transportation officials doubted the project could be built for the estimated $250 million. Arlington officials said they will pursue other federal funds that have higher spending limits.

“This is one in a series of multiple actions the County Board will be taking that reaffirms our commitment to Columbia Pike’s streetcar project,” said board chairman J. Walter Tejada (D). “It’s not a vote on the project. Those votes have already been taken.”

Garvey, who was elected last fall partly on the strength of her opposition to a streetcar, tried to defer the vote until the county conducted “an in-depth, cost-benefit analysis, done and shared with the public.” Her motion died for lack of a second.

“This project feels so un-Arlington in its approach,” she said. “We don’t know what we’re going to build ... or how we’re going to pay for it. But we’re going to build it no matter what.”

Board member Chris Zimmerman (D), who has been the strongest and longest supporter of the project, called the vote “a routine matter” and said there was no reason for delay.

“Just saying it” hasn’t been studied enough, or will cost too much “doesn’t make it true,” he said. “If this approach were taken, the Dulles rail project never would have gone through.”

 
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